Years ago Chief Justice Holmes remarked that certain lawyers making their presentation before his Court had been simply "shoveling smoke." This last month Americans watching the Senate Committee on Campaign Finance Abuses have noticed that same phenomenon. Tennessee Republican Senator Fred Thompson, (a possible antagonist to Al Gore in the next presidential race), was filling the Senate chambers with that fluffy stuff.
While Thompson was accusing China of buying into our political process, and Senator John Glenn was blaming Thompson for "playing loosely" with the facts, Senator Robert Torricelli remarked: "We're trying to establish some common ground. We're trying to bridge the gap on perceptions." Senator Richard J. Durbin wondered aloud whether senators could even begin to cooperate in their inquiry into the "influence of China and foreign money" on American elections (The New York Times, July 15).
Actually, the whole hearing is a farce, and a cover-up. Though both Democrats and Republicans in their last election campaigns promised the voting public "real campaign reform," neither party has so far brought any significant proposals before Congress. The millions that have been rolling in from PACs plus "soft money" are just too enticing. So, even though polls have repeatedly shown most Americans would gladIy shoulder the cost of honest elections, nothing has changed.
Controlling "soft money" (a nice word for bribes) by threatening the other party or by trying to frighten the source (i.e., China or Indonesia) is akin to our attempts to control the drug problem by plowing up poppy fields in Burma, spraying cocaine plantations in Columbia, or burning marijuana leaves in Mendocino. As long as there is a big open U.S. market for drugs, it just won't work. We should have learned that from the Prohibition era. Political soft money presents the same situation. Only a campaign reform bill with teeth, including public financing and free TV access for candidates, will stop the bribery that is destroying our democratic system.
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I wonder how many noticed that in all this discussion of foreign lobbies, no mention is ever made of the biggest, most expensive and most dangerous foreign lobby and soft money donor: Israel and her AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee). Over the years many Americans have become increasingly angry at the apparent stranglehold that Israel has held, not only over Washington, but even over the election of those who will represent them in Congress. It has become obvious that our Middle East policy and many other foreign and even domestic issues are influenced by those who consistently put the interests of Israel above those of this country.
AIPAC is the biggest source of "soft money" in Washington. However, our Federal Elections Commission (FEC), the organization supposedly monitoring political money, and which just fined a German businessman and the local Florida GOP for illegal political contributions, has repeatedly, under Jewish pressure, refused to face up to reality, denying the basic activities of AIPAC.
According to FEC policy, any organization that is either controlled by a candidate or has as its major purpose the nomination of candidates, and donates more than $1000 to a candidate in an election, is a "political committee". Using a distorted logic, however, the FEC has continued to designate AIPAC as primarily a lobbying organization, not a PAC. Thus the largest and wealthiest pro-Israel group has successfully evaded U.S. election laws, and has never been forced to expose the details of its 150 employees, 50,000 membership, over 12 million annual budget, or reveal to the U.S. public into which politician's pockets it directs the many millions its client-PACs collect.
AIPAC has thus been able to secretly channel millions into the campaigns of senators and congressmen. or into state elections to support candidates who have Israel's interests at heart, or defeat those whose voting records failed Israel's perceived needs. Never in America's history has a foreign power secretly exerted such dangerous political power, not only in Washington, but in our state capital. AIPAC's Washington office is actually the command center for more than 75 different Jewish Political Action Committees. Not one of these PACs, however, has listed its affiliation with AIPAC, nor does its name suggest its Israeli connection, hiding under such titles as the '"Committee For 18" or the "Government Action Committee," etc.
An excellent example of AIPAC's power is reported in the August/September issue of the Washington Report: "AIPAC takes credit for the 'conversion' of present Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Jesse Helms. The North Carolina Republican topped APIAC's 'hit list' in the 1984 election because of his unyielding opposition to foreign aid. AIPAC directed immense contributions into the campaign of a Helm's rival, making it the most expensive senatorial race in U.S. history up to that time. Helms emerged as the narrow victor and a changed man. He immediately accompanied a group of Jewish constituents to Israel, where he was photographed wearing a yarmulke at the Wailing Wall. From that time he has never again sought to derail aid to Israel."
The near defeat of Helms reveals the modus operandi of AIPAC. By quietly steering millions of out-of state money into the campaigns of politicians who support the policies of Israel's lobby, AIPAC has effectively ended the career of a number of both senators and representatives who have either opposed Israel's activities in the Mideast, or campaigned for better relations with Israel's neighbors. Senator Charles Percy, Representatives Paul Findley and Pete McCloskey, William Fulbright and Adlai Stevenson, are examples of politicians whose careers were essentially ended by AIPAC.
However all was not necessarily forgiven. As Paul Findley notes in his book They Dare to Speak Out: "A tracking system by the (ADL) the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith assured that Pete McCloskey would have no peace even as a private citizen." The ADL distributed pamphlets wherever McCloskey was to speak, interfered with his lecture course at Stanford (his alma mater). Even the reimbursement of his guest speakers was cut off, and when he decided to return to his old law firm, the former associates quietly informed him that Jewish interests were threatening to move their business elsewhere. He joined another group.
Adlai Stevenson once remarked: "It's not only the intimidation of the American politician, it's also the intimidation of some American journalists, then it's the editors and perhaps more, the publishers."
Hopefully for Americans, things may change. A complaint against AIPAC filed back in 1988 by seven retired U.S. public officials asking disclosure of AIPAC's finances has been slowly working its way through the courts. Despite many efforts by the FEC to wiggle out of its responsibilities, and despite the group's having to refile their complaint at least four times, on December 6th, 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in an eight to two decision that the Federal Election Commission erred when it declared AIPAC was not a political action committee and accordingly must open its books to the American taxpayer.
The Appeals Court decision was immediately challenged by AlPAC lawyers. However, in a surprising move, on June 16th the United States Supreme Court finally agreed to hear the case. Linda Greenhouse suggested in The New York Times (June 16), "This case lies at the intersection between free speech and Federal regulation." Not quite. It may, however, determine whether the FEC will be given the backbone to open the books of America's most powerful foreign lobby to American taxpayers.
The Supreme Court ruling in this upcoming trial (Federal Election Commission vs Aikins, No. 96-1590 ) may, as Washington Report editor Richard Curtis put it, "begin to loosen the stranglehold that lsrael and her supporters in the U.S. have long enjoyed over U.S. politicians and Washington policies."